Sexual intercourse is one of the major perks of being a sexually-reproducing species. Sure, it often comes with some downsides, such as STIs, unplanned pregnancies, and the random cramp you get in your foot that totally kills the mood. But for the most part, sex should be something that everyone can enjoy in a safe, consensual manner.
Unfortunately for many women, sexual function and comfort often decrease with age during menopause – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions. A recent presentation at The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting in San Diego, CA, highlighted the many hormone and non-hormone therapies available to women who may suffer from genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM).
Vulvovaginal atrophy occurs as the result of estrogen deficiency, and can cause decreased lubrication, dryness, and pain during sex. These are the most common symptoms of GSM, and keep many postmenopausal women from having or enjoying sex.
Dr. Jan Shifren of Harvard Medical School presented on hormone therapies, such as vaginal use of low-dose estrogen therapy and DHEA and oral ospeminfene. It’s also been shown that testosterone can be effective in improving sexual function, although there are no FDA-approved testosterone products for women and the long-term risks are unknown.
“Fortunately for women who have suffered with GSM, including women who have undergone cancer treatments, there are more options than ever before for maintaining a healthy sex life,” says Dr. Shifren.
There are also non-hormone options that Shifren highlighted, including the regular use of long-acting vaginal moisturizers and lubricants to decrease friction. It’s also been found that the use of topical lidocaine can help decrease the pain of penetration, as can pelvic floor therapy. There are more invasive options – such as vaginal laser therapy to stimulate collagen growth – which show some promise. However, more research is needed to confirm its long-term effectiveness and any potential side effects.
“It is important for women, as well as their healthcare providers, to understand the information because sex shouldn’t hurt at any age,” says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.